6. The town’s leadership should convene a youth leadership conference and let the young folk speak for themselves, in whatever way they choose to speak. Assuredly, such a gathering would produce ideas, plans, and programs that would have the greatest possibility of succeeding because whatever comes forth would be everybody’s baby. 7. The youth complaint of police harassment should be taken seriously. 8. The demands developed by the youth should be accorded sincere consideration. These demands include sensitivity training for police and increasing the number of black police officers (there are currently five on a force of 80).
9. The township should do something to perpetuate the memory of Phillip Pannell, such as a youth center named after him, and an annual conference in his name to discuss issues and relationships. What happened on that fateful evening should never be forgotten. There should be a constant reminder that something went terribly wrong, and it must never happen again.
10. There should be a massive march and rally for justice, unity, and a future together, led by the Pannell family and the young folk. This would afford an opportunity for Teaneck to dramatize before the world its determination to seek justice and live in peace.
On the bright side
The challenge for Teaneck is to transform this midnight into day. There were and are some very significant developments that suggest that it can be done. Even when we ponder “the night of destruction,” April 11, it must be admitted that the vandalism wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Consider:
Hundreds of angry youngsters, grieving for a friend who was shot in the back, rampaged through the streets, far outnumbering a woefully inadequate police force, yet the end result was only 12 broken windows, a few smashed cars, and little looting – no serious injuries and no deaths. There was restraint on both sides. The police should be commended for exercising considerable restraint and heeding the counsel of community leaders whenever they intervened.
It should be underscored that when some other adults and I, hoping to calm the youths, followed them to Intervale Road and Cortland Terrace – where the incident ended with the youngsters standing in the middle of the street breaking bottles, screaming, and calling Phillip’s name – not once were the adults disrespected. Not an epithet was hurled our way, even though we were in the very midst of all the action – pushing kids along, yelling at them, thus preventing greater destruction – and not once did these kids turn on us. Some of the kids even hid their faces in shame.
Surely, this was not your classic riot! These kids weren’t veteran rioters engaged in wanton destruction of life and property. This is neither to condone the lawlessness, nor to disregard the losses of businesses. It is only to say, given the fact that a 16-year-old was shot in the back and hundreds of angry, hurting kids were in the street – it could have been worse, far, far worse.